Bolton's Mission to the South Caucasus

Amid the continuing clamor of the midterm elections, the Trump administration is confronting Russia and Iran as they continue to bite into the liberties and order we enjoy, either through terrorism or by destabilizing whole regions of the globe.

In particular, National Security Advisor John Bolton recently visited the South Caucasus region of Europe and Asia. After a bizarre Obama-imposed stint in the cold, allies Azerbaijan and Georgia are back as priorities while Armenia is on notice with some forthright realities.

Bolton told the Armenian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: “We are going to squeeze Iran because we think their behavior in the Middle East and, really globally, is malign and needs to be changed.”

Accenting the geopolitical/strategic importance of the region situated adjacent to Russia and Iran, Bolton held frank and substantive consultations with the leaders of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. In Armenia’s case, though, the talks were characterized as “tough.”  

The South Caucasus, literally at the crossroads of East and West, is key to these U.S. plans. The region, particularly Azerbaijan, is vital to the energy diversity and security of Europe and Western markets, holding much of the Western-friendly portion of vast oil and gas resources in the Caspian Basin.  Azerbaijan is also the only nation to border both Iran and Russia, as well as enjoying a stable, Western-oriented and emerging democratic government. Important, too, Azerbaijan is one of the few Muslim-majority nations (though staunchly secular) on which the U.S. and even Israel can truly depend.  

In general, Bolton’s discussions ranged from how to reinvigorate and enhance already significant strategic partnerships in the case of Azerbaijan and Georgia, to how the U.S. may assist Armenia in extricating itself from its current status as a vassal of Moscow and its deep dependence on the mullahs in Tehran.

Clearly, Ambassador Bolton’s agenda with each nation includes renewed sanctions on Iran and ways to forestall Russian irredentism and neo-imperialism. Armenian leadership was heard referring to the current and upcoming sanctions on both Iran and Russia as “misguided,” “foolish” and “unwise.”

Thought by most observers as being genuinely understanding of Armenia’s ominous economic, geographic, and geopolitical/strategic circumstances, Bolton maintained his and the Trump administration’s customary straightforwardness. Although this seems to have rankled many in Armenia, it did give leaders of the entire region an accurate, unvarnished picture of U.S. positions on a range of issues.

Long suffering from economic and geopolitical isolation stemming from the now 25-year-old Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) war, Armenia won key battles in the 1990s with the help of Soviet Army troops and the materiel support of Iran. However, it unquestionably lost the peace.

Armenia’s unreasoning desire to maintain its hold on Nagorno-Karabakh, a region internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, leaves only a border with Iran accessible -- Azerbaijan and fraternal Turkey closed their borders in response to ethnic cleansing and wholesale murder of Azeris at the hands of Armenians.

Consequently, in order to illegally occupy Nagorno-Karabakh with near impunity, Armenia mortgaged its future to Russia. Yerevan can no longer live without Moscow’s support politically, in terms of weapons, and weighty and regular infusions of funds. Thus, Armenia has de facto become a vassal state of Russia, doing their bidding and voting as Moscow orders in international forums, in return for Moscow’s support on this one issue.    

Ambassador Bolton presented Armenian leaders with a feasible and practical solution, explicitly taking away the issue that keeps Armenia so indebted and obligated to Moscow and Tehran.

Making peace with Azerbaijan would finally put the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to bed. In doing so, the solitary nation would immediately open itself up to world markets and possibly to the numerous large-scale oil and gas infrastructure projects that have brought such wealth to its neighbors Georgia and Azerbaijan. Strikingly, Ambassador Bolton conveyed that the U.S. would support Armenia in this endeavor.

Bolton told RFE/RL that “current circumstances” highlight the importance of Armenia and Azerbaijan “finding a mutually satisfactory agreement to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.”  Further, “Once that happened, then the Armenian-Azerbaijani border would open,” said Bolton, adding, “The Turkish border, I believe, would almost certainly open.”

Bolton acknowledged that he understood why Armenia needed Iran, but asserted that the solution was to end the conflict with Azerbaijan.

So, the door to peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan ostensibly remains open. So, too, does the door to freedom for Armenia and stability in the region. A valuable byproduct would be to restrain the freewheeling of Russia and Iran.

Paul Miller is president and executive director of the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center. Follow him on twitter @pauliespoint.

Amid the continuing clamor of the midterm elections, the Trump administration is confronting Russia and Iran as they continue to bite into the liberties and order we enjoy, either through terrorism or by destabilizing whole regions of the globe.

In particular, National Security Advisor John Bolton recently visited the South Caucasus region of Europe and Asia. After a bizarre Obama-imposed stint in the cold, allies Azerbaijan and Georgia are back as priorities while Armenia is on notice with some forthright realities.

Bolton told the Armenian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: “We are going to squeeze Iran because we think their behavior in the Middle East and, really globally, is malign and needs to be changed.”

Accenting the geopolitical/strategic importance of the region situated adjacent to Russia and Iran, Bolton held frank and substantive consultations with the leaders of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. In Armenia’s case, though, the talks were characterized as “tough.”  

The South Caucasus, literally at the crossroads of East and West, is key to these U.S. plans. The region, particularly Azerbaijan, is vital to the energy diversity and security of Europe and Western markets, holding much of the Western-friendly portion of vast oil and gas resources in the Caspian Basin.  Azerbaijan is also the only nation to border both Iran and Russia, as well as enjoying a stable, Western-oriented and emerging democratic government. Important, too, Azerbaijan is one of the few Muslim-majority nations (though staunchly secular) on which the U.S. and even Israel can truly depend.  

In general, Bolton’s discussions ranged from how to reinvigorate and enhance already significant strategic partnerships in the case of Azerbaijan and Georgia, to how the U.S. may assist Armenia in extricating itself from its current status as a vassal of Moscow and its deep dependence on the mullahs in Tehran.

Clearly, Ambassador Bolton’s agenda with each nation includes renewed sanctions on Iran and ways to forestall Russian irredentism and neo-imperialism. Armenian leadership was heard referring to the current and upcoming sanctions on both Iran and Russia as “misguided,” “foolish” and “unwise.”

Thought by most observers as being genuinely understanding of Armenia’s ominous economic, geographic, and geopolitical/strategic circumstances, Bolton maintained his and the Trump administration’s customary straightforwardness. Although this seems to have rankled many in Armenia, it did give leaders of the entire region an accurate, unvarnished picture of U.S. positions on a range of issues.

Long suffering from economic and geopolitical isolation stemming from the now 25-year-old Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) war, Armenia won key battles in the 1990s with the help of Soviet Army troops and the materiel support of Iran. However, it unquestionably lost the peace.

Armenia’s unreasoning desire to maintain its hold on Nagorno-Karabakh, a region internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, leaves only a border with Iran accessible -- Azerbaijan and fraternal Turkey closed their borders in response to ethnic cleansing and wholesale murder of Azeris at the hands of Armenians.

Consequently, in order to illegally occupy Nagorno-Karabakh with near impunity, Armenia mortgaged its future to Russia. Yerevan can no longer live without Moscow’s support politically, in terms of weapons, and weighty and regular infusions of funds. Thus, Armenia has de facto become a vassal state of Russia, doing their bidding and voting as Moscow orders in international forums, in return for Moscow’s support on this one issue.    

Ambassador Bolton presented Armenian leaders with a feasible and practical solution, explicitly taking away the issue that keeps Armenia so indebted and obligated to Moscow and Tehran.

Making peace with Azerbaijan would finally put the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to bed. In doing so, the solitary nation would immediately open itself up to world markets and possibly to the numerous large-scale oil and gas infrastructure projects that have brought such wealth to its neighbors Georgia and Azerbaijan. Strikingly, Ambassador Bolton conveyed that the U.S. would support Armenia in this endeavor.

Bolton told RFE/RL that “current circumstances” highlight the importance of Armenia and Azerbaijan “finding a mutually satisfactory agreement to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.”  Further, “Once that happened, then the Armenian-Azerbaijani border would open,” said Bolton, adding, “The Turkish border, I believe, would almost certainly open.”

Bolton acknowledged that he understood why Armenia needed Iran, but asserted that the solution was to end the conflict with Azerbaijan.

So, the door to peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan ostensibly remains open. So, too, does the door to freedom for Armenia and stability in the region. A valuable byproduct would be to restrain the freewheeling of Russia and Iran.

Paul Miller is president and executive director of the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center. Follow him on twitter @pauliespoint.